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Auditing the Stimulus By: Marion Edwyn Harrison, Esq.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 13, 2009

Congress has enacted and President Obama has signed into law the graspingly entitled American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In the history of this country and of every other sovereignty which is, or ever was on the face of this earth, the billions of dollars in the so-called "Stimulus" appropriations of this Congress never have been equaled - or, indeed, remotely grasped.

The cost as enacted is $787 billion, as calculated by the usually objective and competent Congressional Budget Office. Others have calculated the total cost for 2009-19 were the expenditures to become permanent at $3.27 trillion.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, until 2004 named the General Accounting Office - dating from the days when its function was more focused on accounting - is an independent federal agency, founded in June 1921, populated by career personnel, noted for its thoroughness or near-thoroughness.

The top official’s title is the Comptroller General. At the moment that office is vacant. Hon. Gene L. Dodaro is Acting Comptroller General - with, of course, the functional authority of the office. In a rather purist and technical sense, GAO is not part of the executive branch of the federal government and arguably, if anywhere, is part of the legislative branch.

There is no requirement in the recovery act for audit. To those of us who are neither economists nor accountants, much less to others who are one or the other, it would appear elementary that their expenditures should be subject to audit, phenomenal though that task would be.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has written the Acting Comptroller General requesting an audit. It is unfortunate that the request is not bipartisan, but it is better a request come from one keen and courageous mind than there be no request at all.

Some excerpts and comment from the McConnell letter indicate the thrust of the request and the Senator’s bona fide concern.

The senator expresses deep concern “that oversight will stop at the state level once a governor designates the federal money to be spent at the local or municipal level… Tracking money only to the state level is insufficient… Therefore, I request that GAO track expenditures to the project level and report on a bimonthly basis, as part of the 13 mandates… in ARRA.”

The Senator puts forward five questions:
…to what extent are governors assuring that federal spending does not supplant state spending?

How is the administration measuring… effectiveness… in job creation?

To what extent is the Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board tracking… spending… sole-source contracts, and how much of it circumvents contracting laws and regulations?

To what extent do Davis-Bacon requirements in the recovery act increase the cost of each project?

What are some of the key federal regulations that may delay project starts and therefore delay job creation?
GAO surely will have its hands full - and well may need additional appropriations from Congress - thoroughly or even reasonably thoroughly to audit. Astronomical sums distributed rather quickly around the country inevitably invite both honestly confused disbursements as well as the politically motivated chicanery of misuse.

Marion Edwyn Harrison is President of, and Counsel to, the Free Congress Foundation.

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